Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2006
Regional Report

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Azaleas and other spring-blooming shrubs put on their best show when pruned after flowering to maintain their natural shape.

Pruning Savvy

Pruning may well be the least understood of all gardening chores. Many people prune their plants for the same reason some people climb mountains ... because they're there. When we prune a plant we should have a specific purpose in mind. While late-winter is pruning season, this is not true for all plants. In order to build strong, attractive plants, it pays to spend some time learning about the best time and technique for pruning the plants in your landscape.

Why Prune?
Some good reasons for pruning include shaping plants, removing dead and damaged branches, and containing plants which are outgrowing their allotted space. Shade trees are sometimes pruned to raise the lower canopy or to correct a poor structure. Plants such as roses and crape myrtles may be pruned to improve flower production. Fruit trees are pruned to increase new growth and fruit formation. Pruning an old plant can help rejuvenate it and encourage new growth.

Pruning has its primary place in training a new tree, shrub, or vine. When this is done properly, it eliminates virtually all pruning later in the life of most trees and many shrubs. In fact, in most cases if you are using a saw on a landscape plant, it is usually an indication that a poor job of training was done early in the life of the plant.

Pruning Do's and Don'ts
Late winter, just before the emergence of new spring growth, is the best pruning time for many plants in the home landscape. This is especially true of deciduous trees and most evergreens. The primary exceptions are ornamental plants that bloom only in spring. Winter pruning removes bloom buds and therefore limits the blooming show. Wait until after they bloom to prune them.

Fruit trees do indeed bloom in spring, but they are grown for crops and not just the beauty of blooms. Pruning is done to manage crop load and to increase light penetration into the tree, as well as to remove diseased and insect-infested wood.

Ornamentals with berries, such as hollies and pyracantha, produce berries on second-year growth, so avoid removing a large percentage of the new growth on these plants or you'll eliminate potential berries.

Minor pruning of woody ornamentals to correct and train the plants can be done at most times of the year. Plants may need a bit of light touch-up work throughout the season. Gangly canes or shoots may be trimmed back whenever they appear to maintain a plant's form. It is generally best to stop trimming plants by August in order to avoid encouraging a late-season flush of growth that would be prone to cold injury from an early freeze.

Do a little studying up before heading out with saw in hand this winter. There is plenty of good information out there to guide you in pruning most any type of plant. Check with your County Extension office or online at your land grant university Web site for free pruning information. Then you'll be ready to head out to prune with a clear purpose and plan in mind.

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